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“It was all going so smoothly.”
As I walked away from my Friday night screening of Jurassic World, the above line ran through my head on repeat. What starts as a smart, clever homage to the classic original descends into clichéd, well-worn summer action. Colin Trevorrow’s first big budget action adventure is an inverse ratio: the louder it gets, the more boring it becomes.
Taking place twenty years after the events of Jurassic Park, a new Disneyland for dinosaurs has opened on the original site, upping the ante on prehistoric fun. The rides are cooler and the exhibits are more immersive, but the public wants more: bigger, meaner dinosaurs.
To meet demand, the park genetically designs “Indominus Rex”, a T-Rex looking creature who knows nothing but bloodthirsty violence. But when the park’s operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) invites her nephews for a VIP tour, history repeats itself and the new “asset” becomes their most dangerous attraction yet.
The central plot and ideas of Jurassic World are fantastic, even though they’re 90% lifted from the original movie. We’re given time to marvel at the new park through the energetic eyes of Claire’s genius nephew and themes of “nature versus product” are well established. The central plot conflict of creating theme park amusements versus the unpredictability of building animal species from DNA strands feels honest and timely.
In the lead as Owen, the park’s raptor trainer, Chris Pratt is an excellent choice. His affable demeanor and subtle sexiness reminds me of a young Will Smith. He’s a naturally likable actor and the script equips him with enough clever quips to keep the fun aloft. While you’ll never care about the fate of our heroes, they’re still fun to spend time with.
The first big problem arises in park’s security officer, Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio). His ambition to use Owen’s raptors as reptilian weapons is the first sign of stupid things to come. The character feels a lot like the colonel from Avatar: a mustache twirling villain with no other motivation than to “be the bad guy” and get us to inevitable dinosaur fight.
And that’s the second major problem with Jurassic World. Everything in the story is designed to get us to the big, overdone dinosaur fight. Since the original, every Jurassic Park movie has turned dinosaurs from misunderstood animals to Godzilla style monsters. Jurassic World’s biggest sin is starting as a zoo with unpredictable creatures and ending with the typical ear splitting noise we’ve come to expect from summer blockbusters.
But, according to the movie, we’re not supposed to care. As the film proudly tells us dozens of times, this is supposed to be silly. The characters are supposed to be cheesy and corny. Go along with the ride, viewers. After all, don’t you want the climax without the foreplay?
In this instance, it simply doesn’t work. All of the references to the 1991 original just remind us of how much better the series can be. Some may call the movie’s turn towards the ridiculous “self-aware”, an in-movie parody of our own desire for bigger and faster. I call it cheap and a bit lazy.
That said, nonsense can be fun and there are good times to be had in Jurassic World. The mix of practical and CGI effects are outstanding, the action scenes of the first 75 minutes are great and our heroes are entertaining even if they aren’t interesting. It just could have been so much better.
If you need a reminder of this, pop in the original movie and watch the tension filled raptor / kitchen scene. The moment when Lex reaches out and pets a brontosaurus. The terror of watching a T-Rex rush towards a moving Jeep in the rear view mirror. Nothing in this modern day noise fest comes close and it had every opportunity to do so. A strong start that putters to a predictable, standard and boring end, Jurassic World averages out to a mediocre disappointment.
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The mix of CGI and practical effects look great. Chris Pratt is a likable star that drives the movie's action. The opening is full of promise, introducing good ideas to go with the 1991 homage.
The final 40 minutes squanders any good vibes the opening developed. The noisier and busier the action set pieces get, the less we care about them as an audience. Characters are poorly developed. An over-reliance on nostalgia feels lazy as opposed to charming.